One morning last week, businesses and residents along First Avenue in Belltown awoke to a now-familiar sight in their doorways. No, not someone sleeping, but a fresh stack of printed phone books. Dex had just dropped a yellow load.
All along the avenue, piles of 5-pound books were delivered to every business, condo, and apartment building, including some that were empty. "They left four next door at the Dilettante Chocolates, which has been closed since January," said Janet Cunningham of Orca Bay Gallery, a small "Native crafts" shop on the edge of the Market. The books did not go entirely to waste, she says: She saw them used to address the lack of public seating along the busy street.
While Orca Bay has a single phone and a staff of one, a 20-pound plastic pallet of four books was left at Ms. Cunningham's door as well. "Someone called weeks ago and asked if we needed more, and I said no, I already have two," says Cunningham. But seems to have done no good.
Thanks to telecom deregulation, and the glory of free speech, stacks of doorstop-size yellow pages books are now being delivered to Seattle three times a year. You can look forward to the Yellow Book in November and Verizon's yellow pages a month after that.
This overabundance led one property manager at an apartment building on Queen Anne to complain to the city last December. "At my building, 90 percent or more of the books end up going directly into the city recycling bins," wrote Mike Gerhardt. "Are there any laws governing this area? Are yellow pages publishers allowed to dump what, in effect, is garbage anywhere they want?"
Seemingly, no, and yes, respectively.
"To my knowledge there's been no regulation of phone-directory distribution, any more than there is of circulars, pizza flyers, and the like," says Stephanie Hobbs, vice president of communications for the New Jersey–based Yellow Pages Association—one of (of course) several trade groups for the industry.
Each publisher has a different policy, Hobbs says, but most use what is called "blanket delivery." She says an EPA study showed that phone directories account for less than 0.3 percent of the municipal waste stream. "Of course," she adds, "it depends on the day."